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Philip Hay 202-473-1796
WASHINGTON, October 8, 2008 – High food and fuel prices will increase the number of malnourished people around the world in 2008 by 44 million to reach a total of 967 million, a report from the World Bank says.
While food and fuel price increases may have moderated in recent months, prices remain much higher than previous years and show few signs of declining significantly, according to the report entitled “Rising food and fuel prices: addressing the risks to future generations”. Poor families around the world are being pushed to the brink of survival, causing irreparable damage to the health of millions of children. As families cut back on spending, there are also grave risks for the educational performance of poor children.
“While people in the developed world are focused on the financial crisis, many forget that a human crisis is rapidly unfolding in developing countries. It is pushing poor people to the brink of survival,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick. “The financial crisis will only make it more difficult for developing countries to protect their most vulnerable people from the impact of rising food and fuel costs.”
The report, due to be presented on Sunday to the Development Committee at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, says the food and fuel crisis could have long term effects on poor people and countries. Malnourished children cannot develop into healthy adults and become productive members of society who can contribute to the growth needed to lift themselves and their country out of poverty.
The report says priority should be given to a series of targeted measures. These include:
- Making existing targeted cash (or near cash) transfer programs more generous;
- Getting nutrition to infants and pregnant women;
- expanding so-called ”in-kind” food distribution programs including school feeding and the distribution of fortified calorically dense food;
- using fee waivers, lifeline-pricing and other forms of targeted subsidies for poor users/consumers; and
- introducing additional measures to prevent children from dropping out of school, such as fee waivers, subsidies for school inputs, or cash transfers.
The report also argues that allocating the necessary amount of budget to finance an expansion of safety net programs may require pruning less-priority spending in other areas. But it notes that well-designed safety net programs do not have to be prohibitively expensive to be effective. Some of the most successful programs in the world cost well under 1 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Moreover, investing in safety net programs now will give governments new tools to address not just the current crisis, but future ones as well.
In May, the World Bank launched a $1.2 billion rapid financing facility to help poor countries cope with the food crisis. Since then, around US$850 million has been committed to finance seeds, plantings, and feeding programs. In April, Zoellick called for a New Deal for Global Food Policy that included short, medium and long-term measures to provide immediate help to poor people and farmers while increasing food production.